We want underwear that's comfortable, sexy, stylish, ethical, timeless, and sustainable all at the same time. And we want it to be a perfect fit, no matter our body type. That's not too much to ask for, right?
It shouldn't be, but when limited to the major lingerie retailers that dominate the industry, it's often tough to find a product that satisfies even half of these conditions. For a lot of us, we remember our first real bra as the somewhat ill-fitting result of awkward dressing room measurements by an uninterested retail worker.
But as e-commerce allows brands to offer increased diversity in selections and reach more eyes through social media campaigns, consumers are starting to discover bras beyond Victoria's Secret. And with ever-growing movements of both social and environmental consciousness, brands are focusing more on what matters to their customers.
The perfect bra is finally becoming a reality, thanks to the following women, who have grown tired of uncomfortable underwires and poor fit.
(Some of the images in this article may be NSFW.)
Photo courtesy of Origami Customs
Rachel Hill, founder, customizes lingerie and swimwear for all body types, no exceptions.
"I believe firmly that all type of bodies, including size, gender expression, ability, and age, deserve a perfect fit, without discrimination," writes Hill of her company's mission. Any tailoring is free of charge, ensuring that the perfect fit is truly accessible to all.
Hill began designing swimwear while living in Utila, Honduras, after getting involved in the SCUBA diving community there. "I realized that living in such an isolated place made it difficult to access many things, including good quality swimwear, so I started designing and making it for my friends," she said.
Origami Customs also provides quality options for the trans and gender variant community, filling in gaps in the mainstream lingerie market.
"My main purpose in this business has always been to create underthings for people who so often get left out of mainstream fashion," explained Hill. She designed her first styles of "packing" briefs and swim bottoms with the help of her transmasculine partner.
Going forward, Hill is working on offering subsidized products for the trans community, as well as for homeless youth.
Photo courtesy of ThirdLove
ThirdLove is dedicated to helping you find your perfect size, thanks to their new sizing system and their iPhone app.
Trying to figure out your bra size can be a confusing and stressful process. And even when you think you know your size, the bras still might not be the perfect fit. ThirdLove is trying to change that.
"Big box stores are unable to produce more sizes because their costs are so high, and they only have so much room in their brick and mortar stores," explained Rachael King, communications director. Thanks to ThirdLove's online model, they're able to offer half cup sizes, catering to the 40% of women who actually fall in between the standard cup sizing.
Their iOS app lets you figure out your size in the privacy of your own home. Using their patented technology, the app determines your perfect fit based only on two photos.
When you use the ThirdLove app, you're also helping them to create products that fit actual women. While major companies are using standard industry measurements, ThirdLove is using data from thousands of real women to create their sizes. "We're able to use [anonymous date from the app] to inform our designs going forward, so we can provide the absolute best fit," said King.
Photo courtesy of Anekdot
Anekdot is an "upcycle brand," meaning that they source their materials from production leftovers and vintage trimmings.
"The message is about consuming ethically in a wholistic form, encouraging people to shift their consumer behaviors," said founder Sofie Andersson.
She wants her customers to be able to connect with their everyday items of clothing. Each piece of lingerie has a story behind it, as Andersson breathes new life into her materials.
Small antique markets in Italy serve as Andersson's favorite sourcing location, though she also uses materials that result from factory closures, makers' surpluses, production errors, and miscalculations.
"It is such a pleasure to connect to the vendors and hear the stories of where the materials came from," said Andersson of the vintage markets in Italy.
At Anekdot, the products are designed based on the materials that are available. Rather than seeing this as a limitation, Andersson uses it as a method of gaining inspiration for the garments. She is most inspired by "passionate people, unusual fabrics, and vintage details."
Each product from Anekdot is handcrafted, further adding to the story behind the piece.
"Our inspiration comes from our three keywords: sustainable fashion essentials," said co-founder Arina Woron of the brand's aesthetic.
Photo courtesy of WORON
"What we find fascinating is that something so simple and clean can be so attractive. This is one of the messages that we want to get across, that less definitely can be more," she continued.
WORON, founded by sisters Arina and Anya Woron, was born out of the relief that they used to feel upon taking off their bras. To them, the perfect lingerie should be so comfortable that it's the last thing you take off at night.
To ensure that comfort, they use beech wood pulp fiber to create the fabric for their products.
"It's as comfortable and luxurious as it gets," explained Woron. But the material serves a dual purpose in also achieving the brand's goal of sustainability.
To the Woron sisters, sustainability is not optional. Because of their passion for their work, they want to feel good about every decision and every step of their process. The garments are sewn in a small factory in Europe, and the fiber is also made in Europe, keeping the production close to home. Plus, the fabric is super absorbent, which leads to less water waste.
Photo courtesy of Kenz
Kenz is an online lingerie shop that's bringing trendy styles to women in the Middle East and North Africa region.
"We aim to address concerns related to lingerie that are embarrassing and awkward to explore face-to-face in a lingerie shop in the MENA," said co-founder Christina Ganim.
Ganim, who founded the company with Nicola Isabel, was born in Palestine and raised between the Middle East and the US. She explained that there isn't a large variety of lingerie to choose from in Palestine: "Women usually have to travel to Jordan and other places to find decent quality lingerie. Otherwise, they're left with poor quality lingerie that isn't particularly great fitting or stylish."
Kenz is creating a more comfortable space for women in the Middle East to purchase lingerie, complete with a live chat in Arabic for any questions that someone might have. They also publish a blog with tips related to current trends and the perfect fit.
Although e-commerce in the Middle East is rapidly evolving, it's still relatively new to the region, and some of Kenz's customers are unfamiliar with making online purchases. "It's important to establish trust with our customers and keep the site simple and easy-to-navigate," said Ganim.
Photo courtesy of Fortnight Lingerie
Each bra from Fortnight is expertly crafted in a process of over 25 steps and components.
Christina Remenyi, founder, described the brand's aesthetic as "modern, minimal, and classic" and "feminine and functional all at once."
She wants her customers to feel both confident and comfortable in the garments. "By fusing design with technical consideration and high quality fabrics in a diverse range of sizes, our hope is to help women feel most like their true selves," she said.
The lingerie is made to last by a team of skilled craftswomen in Canada and available in a diverse variety of sizes.
Fortnight describes their lingerie as "architectural in its design," as every stitch and detail affects the way a bra fits and feels on the body.
And it's also environmentally sustainable. "We're essentially striving to make an antidote to fast fashion by creating garments that promote consciousness and quality over mass production and abundance," said Remenyi. All of their garments are designed and produced locally.
They also produced an inspiring video called #BUSTOUT, in which women burned padded bras.
Photo courtesy of Nubian Skin
Why should nude bras always be the same color? Nubian Skin is producing skin-tone lingerie for women of color.
Nubian Skin offers a variety of skin-tones ranging from "Café au Lait" to "Berry." But it wasn't easy to find those perfect shades, a process that ultimately took around a year from start to finish.
Ade Hassan, the brand's founder, started out by looking at makeup offerings for women of color. Although she had picked an initial set of color samples by autumn 2013, she didn't pin down the exact colors until summer the following year.
The process paid off almost immediately, as Nubian Skin quickly acquired a following.
The brand went from 50 to 20,000 Instagram followers within four weeks of their campaign launch, and now, the count reaches over 80,000.
This year, Beyoncé brought their designs with her on tour, which Nubian Skin of course credits as one of the most exciting moments since their launch. Beyoncé and her dancers wore Nubian Skin garments underneath their costumes, and true to the brand's mission, you couldn't actually see the underwear.
(If you want to feel like Beyoncé, try out their t-shirt bra and thong!)
"In a category often dominated by one very pervasive message of beauty, Negative is trying to showcase a different perspective," said co-founder Lauren Schwab.
What's that perspective? "One that supports women's bodies as they are, one that underscores how beautiful the female form is without pushing it up, sucking it in, or asking it to jump a cup size," added Marissa Vosper, the brand's other founder.
The focus of Negative Underwear is on the essentials. Their designs are minimalistic with no decorations or embellishments.
Every aspect of their garments is designed so that the wearer doesn't actually feel like they're wearing anything at all. The fabrics are silky and stretchy, adapting to your exact size. The soft elastic straps of the bras eliminate that uncomfortable "digging" feeling caused by your average bra. And the 100% organic cotton underwear is super breathable.
"We're building an underwire empire," said Schwab of the brand's future plans. "That's been true since the day we launched, and it's true today as we look five years into the future."
Photo courtesy of Naja
Catalina Girald saw an issue with how women were represented in the lingerie industry, so she founded Naja to fix it.
"Lingerie ads put women in overly sexualized positions, which sent the wrong message to both women and men," said Girald. She wants to impact and empower women, rather than objectifying them with products and ads meant more for the male gaze.
The digital prints of their garments are both stylish and eco-conscious. "Many people don't realize the impact of the apparel we wear on our oceans. We almost completely eliminated the use of water in our production process by moving from dying to digital printing," Girald explained.
Most of the workers employed in the Naja factory are single mothers and female heads of households. "We want the people making the products to be equally empowered," said Girald. In addition to paying above market wages, Naja provides the workers' children with all of the supplies needed for school.
Girald also founded the Underwear for Hope program, in which she employs women in Colombia to make the lingerie bags that come with every Naja purchase. And 2% of Naja's revenue is donated to Colombian charities that provide continuing education to women.
The challenges facing lingerie brands going forward
If the quest to develop the perfect bra sounds tough, that's because it is. "There's almost no aspect that's easy, so perhaps the biggest challenge is perseverance against what can feel like constant hurdles," said Vosper of Negative Underwear.
Girald discussed the challenges relating to fundraising for Naja: "When you have a group of investors that's primarily men, it can be difficult to convince them to fund a product that empowers women."